Sunday, June 17, 2001

Worried about garbage snoopers? Shred it!


Paper, uniforms, police badges - all meet same demise

By Justin Bachman
The Associated Press

        ALPHARETTA, Ga. - Peter Chechak has places to go, people to see and paper to shred.

        Dressed in a navy blue jumpsuit more akin to a municipal worker from Everywhere, USA, Mr. Chechak wheels a conventional plastic trash bin — fitted with a very unconventional-looking padlock — from a suburban First Union Corp. bank branch to his truck.

        A mechanical arm hoists the bin skyward, tumbling its paper contents into a hatch atop the truck.

        Seconds later, customer financial records are reduced to paper snow and Mr. Chechak tools off to destroy some other company's sensitive documents.

        Welcome to the world of secure document destruction, where companies like Mr. Chechak's employer, Recall Corp., drive around in shredding trucks to ensure that snooping Dumpster divers don't obtain information valuable to criminals or corporate spies.

        While the Information Age has spawned a slew of conveniences from e-mail to CD storage, those developments have done remarkably little to reduce the flood of paper that cascades through American homes and offices.

        All of which makes the shredding industry nearly giddy, as the information surge creates a commensurate amount of paper, which benefits their document management, retrieval and destruction businesses.

        “Paper is not the enemy,” says Victor Mendes, chairman and chief executive of Recall, which says a quarter of its annual revenue comes from the demise of paper and other materials considered too sensitive for the local landfill.

        “It's actually a useful medium. It has a lot of applications; it's just not useful for managing information,” he said.

        Recall, an Alpharetta-based unit of Australian conglomerate Brambles Industries Ltd., says some government agencies ship it old uniforms to destroy, as has the Australian carrier Qantas Airways.

        “A captain's uniform in the wrong hands can be very dangerous,” said Al Trujillo, president of Recall's North American division.

        Recall's shredding business is enjoying 20 percent annual growth, although Brambles won't disclose individual division revenues, Mr. Mendes said.

        Recall offers customers such as banks, hospitals, municipalities and insurance companies pickup schedules ranging from weekly to monthly. The service costs around $30 per onsite shred. About half of Recall's clients require the company to furnish a certificate of destruction.

        A rival, Canadian-based Shred-it, started in 1989 with one truck and an office in suburban Toronto. Last year, the company had revenue of more than $129 million, charging $3.85 per minute.

        “The sensitivity to confidentiality is growing every day,” said Greg Brophy, Shred-it's founder and president. Shred-it, a franchiser that owns 32 of its 90 offices, says it has destroyed poker chips, old prescription drugs and blue jeans.

        Recall doesn't inspect the paperwork it destroys and assumes no criminal liability. The shred is bundled into bales and sent to a mill to be recycled.

        Besides paper, Recall destroys police badges and uniforms, computer hard drives, floppy disks, optical storage media, video and audio tapes — “anything that has an intrinsic value to someone,” Mr. Trujillo said.

        It's a concern among industry and business, which lost $45 billion as a result of trade theft in 1999, according to a survey by the American Society for Industrial Security and PricewaterhouseCoopers. Other estimates put the loss nearer $100 billion.

        The issue has assumed a new importance in a world in which lawsuits and the attendant discovery process has become a serious threat to many firms. Moreover, politicians are calling for new consumer protections as personal information becomes concentrated in corporate databases.

        Plain old spying is another terror.

        Last summer, the software giant Oracle Corp. admitted hiring detectives to peruse the garbage at rival Microsoft Corp. Officials at computer chip maker Transmeta Corp. said snoopers were routinely shooed from their garbage bins as the company developed its Crusoe chip.

        The Supreme Court has ruled that garbage is fair game — toss a customer's credit-card number or medical records into the trash and anyone can nab it legally, even if the ultimate purpose is nefarious.

        Mr. Mendes said selling onsite shredding is usually as simple as a quick visit to a prospective client's outdoor trash bin.

        “Just go outside in their disposal bins and produce a number of documents and just bring it out and say, "Look, this is what I found.'” Mr. Mendes said. “They say "Oh, my God,' and then they start really getting worried about this.”
       



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